An Everlasting Meal: How to Stride Ahead

"The book is beautifully intimate, approaching cooking as a narrative that begins not with a list of ingredients or a tutorial on cutting an onion but with a way of thinking.  How rare and wonderful it is to have a book grounded in instinct, prompting the reader to examine the world around him-or herself differently, allowing cooking to become a continuous, integrative process that flows from meal to meal."

- Alice Waters, Forward of An Everlasting Meal

I love this critique of Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal:  Cooking with Economy and Grace.  Before reading, or beginning to read, the next chapter "How to Stride Ahead," I flipped through the forward for some reason and found myself reading the paragraph Ms. Waters so eloquently wrote.  Little did I know "How to Stride Ahead," would embody this very approach (as it should now that I think about it...) in a way more pronounced to me than the first two chapters on boiling water and teaching an egg to fly.

With my feet up on my bedroom wall, I told the Gent we must read since we hadn't read this past week and I now have a self-imposed deadline on Tuesdays.  Since we've vowed to read the book together, that meant a compromise since it was getting late:  I promised to read just the first few pages and he promised to stay awake.  He loves the book too, but usually crashes once his head is on his pillow.

The chapter title "How to Stride Ahead" was spot on for us:  we had just been resuming talks of a food calendar.  This is something we had utilized for the past four years, but over the past year, found it hard to plan such a thing since making the switch from whatever-the-globe-made to whatever-the-region-produced was a completely new concept for us, making everything appear "unpredictable" (zucchinis aren't grown year-round) and abounding in plethora (but when they are grown, there's an overstock in the fridge).  There has been a give-and-take.  While our month-long calendars would take a while to plan, they allowed us to feel like we were striding ahead with no friction surrounding the "what's for dinner" dilemma each night.  Then again, nothing can replace eating locally and experiencing how the body craves what is naturally grown for that time and season as well as benefiting from those nutrients still existing in the just harvested food!  Foods I didn't used to like (such as zucchini) I now eat regularly, not because there are plenty of them, but because my body, I believe, has needed those specific ingredients to sustain itself and allow the weather inside to correlate with the weather conditions outside.

But I don't think we didn't have a food calendar because we couldn't get our "act" together.  Perhaps it was less about "what's for dinner" as it was about agreeing about "what's for dinner."  Or perhaps more significantly, why we disagreed.  If we had opinions early on in our relationship about how to cook, we sure had opinions on what to cook (or at least the Gent did, and I am trying hard not to simply be biased--I tended to contribute towards our dynamic by not expressing my feelings).  Gratefully, those flavors are balancing out and congealing into something healthier these days.  Time ferments many things into great things, and I'd like to think our communication and openness to examine ourselves and our motivations are fermenting our marriage in more beneficial ways than we know and experience right now.  (Why was I more willing to try his lentils and rice for a prolonged amount of time when I didn't like them and why was he immediately rejecting of my quinoa salads?  Hint:  I don't think it had to do with food inasmuch as it did with rejection of ourselves.)  Ms. Adler writes in the beginning, "Our desire to eat fresh vegetables has left us with an idea that vegetables are only good if they're cooked just before being eaten.  But many of the best vegetable dishes are cooked over time.  This is true of a lot of dishes, but particularly of ones made from vegetables, those unwieldy things that take more doing than anything else in the kitchen does before they're even close to done."  Perhaps the same can be said for marriage:  it seems that culture thinks a marriage is only good if it "just works", if "it's easy," and there "isn't much needed."  After all, as trite as this may sound it is the message on television, and likewise, with television dinners.  There should be no work and no time; things should be just easy and effortless.  Perhaps marriage actually is great when there is doing involved, like expressing feelings with words, hearing those feelings, reflecting and being open to outcome while letting it go, and taking responsibility for one's self (and not anything more) even if another doesn't take responsibility.  It requires hard work.  It also requires time, patience, and love.  Gentleness seems to be key.  I look forward to taking time to create good produce dishes with all of this in mind.

"Each week I buy whole bunches of the leafiest, stemmiest vegetables I can find.  Then I scrub off their dirt, trim off their leaves, cut off their stems, peel what needs peeling, and cook them all at once.  By the time I've finished, I've drawn a map of the week's meals and created the beginnings of a succession of them."

And it's here that I put the book down -- to say to the Gent that I had an epiphany:  cooking could be easy.  (As I then thought to myself, "And when did it get hard??")  On a day-to-day level something must have gotten into some kind of rut.  Perhaps the food calendar for a month caused me to only think in terms of recipes (it's a little hard to connect a Mexican meal to a Japanese one even in a fusion-style) and so up until this point, I was more prone to think about a recipe when planning dinners than listening to the vegetables themselves or to my intuition.  But perhaps, it is also an emotional rut:  maybe I've been reacting in my relationship.  Maybe I've been reacting with a posture of, "I'm not going to cook if you aren't," which if true, may be ash left over from some awful marital advice I received and followed in my first year:  "Nip things in the bud during your first year, otherwise, they'll remain for 20."  First of all, the Gent does cook if I squint really hard through my selective blindness and secondly, and thankfully, sometime near the end of our first year, I saw how objectifying and distrusting this advice was.  It is the difference between curdling and congealing, I think.  I contributed to our curdling that way.  (He had his own ways.)  Picking up the book -- I continued to read.  I resonated with her exuberant feeling (noting to myself that this needs to be my starting place which interestingly enough is an end from another place):  "I start cooking as soon as possible after shopping, when the memory of the market's sun and cheerful tents are still in my mind.  If you can't get to it immediately, though, put everything but the greens in a big bowl on your kitchen table instead of refrigerating it.  In plain sight, your vegetables will chide you too cook them, and it feels pleasantly frivolous to spend a few moments fussing cauliflower, beets, and squash into a tableau."  I absolutely love coming home after the farmer's market all energized to prep for the week, now I see the need to let this flow and weave throughout my--our--meals.